Last week’s post on the economic cost of youth unemployment generated discussion on and offline. A couple of comments in particular — from Graham Roe — caught my eye.
“I completely disagree with the conclusion of this post,” wrote Roe. “There are seismic shifts under way in our economy, demographics, access to information and enhanced ability for our youth to connect and mobilize. If governments do not address the barriers to opportunity that exist for our youth we will see more of the same that occurred in London. You cannot simply blame the victim as this blog post ends. Just because Gen X and the boomers are unaffected now doesn’t mean it will stay that way.”
Roe went on to list three examples of barriers: a corporate world unwilling to provide early career opportunities to young Canadians; government intent on disenfranchising youth; and an education system ill-suited to preparing students for today’s job market. He continued: “Our youth need to be embraced by enterprises and government and nurtured to be citizens and leaders of our future.”
Passionate stuff. I reached out to Roe on Twitter to ask him if I could use this space to respond, and he kindly agreed. Roe’s criticism of public and private sector decision-making in today’s economy deserves a listen, in my opinion. Even if I don’t agree with him.
A couple of things.
First, I’ll address the criticism that my post blamed the victim (i.e., young adults) for the difficult time many have had finding decent work. Chalk that up to a simple misunderstanding. When I wrote that “the onus will fall on the unemployed (and under-employed) themselves,” it was not to suggest that young Canadians don’t deserve support. I’d argue that the unemployment/underemployment situation facing Generation Y is serious enough to warrant support from inside and outside government. The status quo serves no-one’s interests.
But programs can only do so much. It’s a shame that this generation has to be so much more pragmatic about its career plans. But they do. Those who recognize that have an advantage.
Second, I’m going to make a broader point. Roe mentioned London, which is presumably a reference to the youth riots in 2011. Many saw that as a reaction to the poor economic prospects facing young English men and women. Roe wrote that governments must “address the barriers to opportunity that exist for our youth” and that the corporate world has failed to “open their doors to mentoring our youth and provide them with meaningful employment and the opportunity to shape the world in which they live.”
Respectfully, that’s a bit rhetorical for my liking. Since 2008, we’ve been living through what will probably be the worst economic period of our lives. Young adults have suffered more than their share. What’s needed is informed debate and creative problem solving.
That’s why I’ve been so critical of the Occupy Movement. Its leadership failed to transition from a protest movement to a political movement. They earned the world’s attention, and then did nothing but chant slogans at us.
I don’t mean to discount the frustration that Roe wrote about. It’s understandable. And it’s not unique to young adults across this country.
But imagine you’re finance minister for a moment. Do you make additional moves to stimulate the economy and job growth, or are you more worried about how low interest rates are driving household debt levels through the roof?
Put yourself at the head of a Canadian company. Is this an environment in which you’re comfortable making big bets on your business and hiring more staff? Or do you continue to play it safe and hold onto cash reserves so that you and your employees can sleep a bit easier at night?
I don’t see any simple answers. Do you?
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